What is the Quickest Most Ethical Way of Killing a Fish

Humanely killed fish can also improve the taste of the meat for a couple of reasons. There are a few different methods of doing this with bleeding immediately after killing the fish a big part of the process. What is the quickest most ethical way of killing a Fish?

Most anglers use Asphyxiation but a more ethical way is to:
Hit the fish in front of his gill plate-above the nose, under the forehead with something heavy and solid impacting the brain.
Brain Spiking- by driving a sharp spike using an ice pick or knife into the brain just above the eye of the fish

I never thought twice about how the fish that I landed on the beach, boat, or shoreline died but recently I read some articles that maybe there is a reason for it. Why not take an extra couple of minutes and do it the right way. It may not only be a little better for the fish. It will definitely be better for the fish that makes it to your plate.

Will Ice Kill a Fish

Ice water will not kill any fish quickly. There are some fish that will stay alive for hours on ice or in icy water. A tropical fish may go into shock, but it won’t die right for a long time. The fish might look dead because the body has stiffened, but that’s just a function of the cold and doesn’t indicate the death of the fish. They will die of Asphyxiation. Anglers will get ocean fish like Blues or Striped Bass right on ice but are that the right thing to do. The same with freshwater Lake Trout or Salmon, the fish that are intended to be eaten by the angler who caught them. Is it the most ethical thing to do?

We as fishermen,  just as hunters want to get that kill shot on a deer. To kill an animal with a single shot is the goal of every responsible hunter. Most of us were taught to put a bullet in the “boiler room,” the heart and lungs. The last thing you want is for any animal or fish to suffer before they die.

This works the same way in fishing. On the ocean, in a school of Blues, you want to catch and get that lure back in the water so that you add to the cooler at the end of the day. What should be important is how to kill that fish, fresh or salt in a humane way so that the fish doesn’t suffer. Lots of fish are cold-blooded and can sit on ice for hours and resuscitate themselves while you’re busy trying to catch more. Not a pleasant thought. Get it done fast so this doesn’t happen.

After all, for anything to live then some else must die but wouldn’t it just be better to knock the guy over the head instead of suffocating it to death. Before you criticize my tenderness for nature I also realize that predatory fish like Striper and Bluefish eat their young when they are hungry. They are vicious and how many times have you’ve been cut with those razor-sharp teeth. Naive I’m not I’m just saying with most fish the faster that blood comes out the better they taste that the unwritten law for any animal or fish.

So not only is killing them fast ethical you can get that bleeding process done too. Somewhere there are people laughing at me but I’m not telling you to hold their fin and try to convince them that everything will be alright, Just want to do it right and make them taste as good as possible. Lying in the ice cooler, Asphyxiating is the most probable way any fish dies after it’s been hooked and landed.


Clubbing Fish

The best way to quickly kill the fish you just caught is to render them unconscious. Large predator fish like Striped Bass and Bluefish that are freshly caught can be hazardous to the person that is trying to handle them. The more they move the dangerous not likely they catch a row of teeth on your hand is very possible. There is plenty of salt and freshwater fish that are capable of this. So the quicker you end this movement the better, for you and the better for the fish.

I’ve seen guys who during a frenzy on a Head Boat will slam the fish on the deck of the boat and most of the time this doesn’t work. In fact, all it does is add more blood to the white meat that should be filed and enjoyed. If you beat the crap out of any fish it will add blood to the filets and make the meat taste gamey.

That gamey taste that ruins the flavor of the fish is the blood and lactic acid brought on by stress and trauma that should have been cleaned out of it. It can ruin the taste of any fish. So an even timed hookem-landem-killem-cleanem approach should be used. There is less stress on the fish that’s hooked. It is better for the fish and better for the plate.

Hitting the Fish on the head or Clubbing

  • Once the fish is hooked fighting and even when it’s out of the water, his adrenaline glands along with stress levels secrete fluids that also ruin the taste of the meat
  • Land the fish as soon as you can
  • Hit the fish in front of his gill plate-above the nose and under the forehead with a fish bat or something heavy and solid.
  • Don’t smash his head all over the deck just give it one or two direct hits that will stun it and knock it unconscious
  • The size of the blow depends on the size of the fish
  •  The blow should be aimed just above the eyes to impact the brain. The effectiveness of the stun should be checked and another blow applied if the fish is not unconscious.

How To Spike a Fish

Brain Spiking- Another way of getting the job done is called Spiking involves driving a sharp spike (such as an ice pick or a sharpened screwdriver) into the brain of the fish. The spike should be placed in a position to penetrate the brain of the fish and then pushed quickly and firmly into the skull. This should quickly render the fish unconscious and finish him off quickly.  Brain spiking a fish is a fast efficient and painless way of dispatching your unlucky catch. This prevents the fish from stressing and struggling to cause bruising of the flesh during the fish’s last minutes.

Valuable Bluefin tuna is one of the only wild species that regularly gets slaughtered humanely. It’s a warm-blooded fish, so its meat degrades quickly during premortem stress, similarly to beef or pork. A single bluefin tuna can sell for tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction, so it’s worth it for workers to treat each fish with care. When a big Tuna Yellowfin up to 400 lbs and a Bluefin can grow up to 1000 lbs and over is brought onboard.  It can quite dangerous so professionals will wait until it relaxes and the Tuna will be shot in the brain with a shotgun.

If the tuna is being used for expensive sushi, the spinal cord is then reamed by hand with thick-gauge wire. This commercialization of the Japanese method called ike jime on fishing boats has happened for one reason: profit. An unstressed tuna will be worth a fortune at auction. A Burned Tuna is easy to spot for inspectors when the fish is brought home to the market.

Burned Tuna meat is easy for the trained eye to spot—it’s pale and mushy, unsuitable for high-end sushi. Burned Tuna is one that has exhausted itself online before it is landed and makes it onboard the vessel. Farmers have known this rule for many years that a cow, pig, or even a chicken need to feel relaxed before it is slaughtered, otherwise, the meat will be degraded. What the Japanese learned is that fish are no different.

Stress causes chemical reactions that secrete lactic acids and will dry firm up and destroy the taste. Keep the stress levels down of what you are fishing for or slaughtering and this process will lessen the effects of this reaction from happening. In the sustainable practice of Catch and Release as this article, I wrote earlier in MyWaterEarth&Sky Mortality is mostly affected by exhaustion. 

But even us as a layman can see those signs and act on them. Exhaustion creates high levels of lactic acid that can be potentially fatal. Also, large fish have a problem with overheated muscles that actually begin to break down in the course of a long fight. An exhausted fish can be defenseless and have a lot of problems avoiding predators after release because of the struggle in the water. That exhaustion can last for hours. If your plan is to release a sport-fish like a Largemouth Bass or big lake fish try to land them as fast as you can so that these chemical reactions don’t happen even though you have no intentions of eating them

Do Fish Feel Pain

According to PETA, there is overwhelming evidence that fish do feel pain. Most fish killed in the world die from suffocation while being netted on huge fishing ships, not from recreational weekend fishermen like us so I’m not convinced about any statistics like these. We all still play a part and should be good stewards of the earth. Catch and Release programs are a great way of playing a part in the global effort of protecting what we have and ensuring the next generation can enjoy what we enjoy.


Victoria Braithwaite, professor of fisheries and biology at Penn State University. She co-authored a groundbreaking study in 2003 that suggested fish anatomy was complex enough to experience pain and discomfort. She later wrote the book, “Do Fish Feel Pain?,” which includes this striking line: “I have argued that there is as much evidence that fish feel pain and suffer as there is for birds and mammals — and more than there is for human neonates and preterm babies.” The scientific consensus, Braithwaite tells The Post, is that fish do feel pain. “Whatever that means for the fish,” she adds. “It’s not that they experience the pain that we do, which is more sophisticated.”

What makes this so important is that if the government gets involved with this the perception could lead to changes in laws pertaining to the industry and that might have to amend the Animal Welfare Act and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, both of which exclude fish. Weekend anglers might have to kill their fish first before throwing them in a cooler. Fish farms might have to adopt new methods of slaughter. Commercial trawlers, the boats that roam the world’s oceans, might have to upgrade their equipment to kill fish humanely. It could be a bigger deal than johnny and pop going trout fishing on a spring weekend down at the stocked lake.

The innovators in humane slaughter, the professor says, can often be found in aquaculture, the rapidly growing business of raising fish in contained environments. World Bank report estimates that by 2030, aquaculture will supply more than 60 percent of the fish for human consumption, nearly a third more than it supplied in 2006. Accordingly, aquaculture has been trying to overcome its reputation for polluting the environment and spreading disease.

According to the “NOAA, more than 80% of the seafood consumed in the US is caught in though a large portion of it is caught by U.S. fishermen and sent overseas for processing before returning to American shores. So Johnny and his Pop can change their habits of how they kill their trout and probable will with few problems but how are the industrial-sized trawlers going to change the way they kill millions of fish is the way that most weekend anglers kill their fish (asphyxiating them) without repercussions that eventually will be hitting the supermarket. Responsible Outdoorsmen and women can’t stop this but we can do the small things that set the presidents to come.

Asphyxiation- It usually takes a lot longer for a fish to asphyxiate than it takes for a person to drown. It’s a rough way to go for a fish any fish. As a trout convulses, it tears its own muscles apart as they flood with lactic acid and burn up their cellular fuel reserves, triggering a series of chemical reactions that speed the degradation of fat and muscle. This results in a meat that becomes spongier than that from a trout that dies immediately and can add more bacteria than feed as this process is happening. There is plenty of scientific evidence that determines that a fish that is killed right away and bled as fast as possible will taste better.


ike jime



Ike jime- is a traditional Japanese method of slaughter that results in better-tasting and longer-lasting meat. It’s nearly impossible to find commercial fish in the US that have been killed with this technique, which is the main reason why high-end sushi restaurants often fly their fish in from the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. Tsui sees that gap in the market as an opportunity for local producers to sell fresh-caught sashimi-grade fish from the country it will be eaten in.

Electrical Stunning- although not practiced a lot, it is another experimental way of killing large numbers of catches on commercial fishing vessels This ensures that the fisher doesn’t suffer from panicking which that I explained earlier effects the chemical that the fish create that will affect the flesh, taste, and meat of the thousands netted fish that are pulled up onto the deck that would normally just lay there and eventually dies from asphyxiating. Since 2016 the Us made commercial Fishing industries have been using electrically charged tanks that hold crabs

How Do You Bleed a Fish

  • Keep the fish from banging around as much as possible
  • Kill the fish with one of the procedures found here.
  • Use a good Filet Knife or Pruning shears
  • Cut through the gill rakers on one side of the fish. By only cutting one side of the fish, blood pressure will stay higher, allowing most of the blood to pump out of the fish.
  • Once the blood is out- get it on ice water
  • Ice water should be mixed with saltwater

A lot of people I know don’t like Bluefish they can be oily if there are bloodlines inside the meat. They look like a black stain on the white meat. It is all about cleaning them fast and right. If you get the blood out of them fast and get them on ice the filets are great tasting fish on the grill.

The whole secret is getting them bled out right away. Blood is acidic and can ruin the meat as soon as the fish dies it starts to decompose and works its way through the fish.

Bluefish have a bad reputation because people catch them don’t prep them right. I’m one of those guys who will eat Bluefish and Snapper Bluefish but they need to be bed out and ice. You can filet them at home as long as they are bled out and iced. It’s the same with many different fish that are gamey tasting and oily.

Bleeding Striped Bass

If your plan is to choose a good size Striper and release the smaller ones, then you need to know how to do both, releasing it without harming it and bleeding it for the best quality meat. Will start with keeping a Stripper because it’s an incredibly tasty fish and in a few weeks when the temperatures come up, it will be running on the eastern coast.

  • Striped Bass– do this by severing the artery directly between the gills and give the gills a few good rakes with your knife. Blood should pour out of the cut pretty good. If possible, angle the fish down. If done effectively and quickly, you’ll notice considerably better fillets.
  • Mix some Saltwater in your cooler and after bleeding ice it
  • If on a boat always rinse the filets with saltwater (it will improve the taste)
  • Remember never use freshwater on filets especially if you are planning on freezing them
  • If you don’t have saltwater available dry the filets before cooking or freezing
  • If you are going to eat the filet right away on the barbecue then leave the skin on and it will stay moist and fresh
  • If you are going to freeze the filets then take the skin off


Catch & Release Striped Bass

  • Limit the time that you fight the fish especially a small Bass
  • Wet your hands and get the lure out-dry hands to rub off the protective slime that a Stripper has on its body
  • If you’re in a small boat remove the hook in the water
  • Get your picture and get the Bass back in the water
  • Use Circle Hooks (in New Jersey it will be mandatory very soon) It reduces the chance of a gut hook Bass which if it does happen to an undersize small then cut the leader a few inches above its mouth and do not try and work the hook out-revive it and let it go
  • Never hold a big fish like a Bass vertically always hold him horizontally at the tail and under the jaw
  • Reviving the fish should take a few minutes. Take your time if you can hold the fish vertically and move it forward only letting the water move through its gills. Do this until the Bass shows some signs of life  When the striper is ready to go on its own, the dorsal will shoot up and it will bite down on your thumb. When it seems ready to go, release it and let it swim away under its own power.


This a great video explaining the two processes on a freshwater Salmon. These methods can be used on all types of fish in fresh or saltwater fishing and will improve the process which makes it better for us as stewards of the sport and responsible humans on this earth. Nothing wrong with that.

There may be some fish commercially or recreationally that are sometimes killed in kinder ways, but the vast majority of desirable fish that end up on American plates in restaurants and kitchen tables around the world are pulled from the water and thrown either on ice or left to gasp in air. This is a long and brutal process of death.

Researchers say that Sea bass put in an ice slurry takes five minutes to lose consciousness; carp keep breathing for almost an hour in an ice slurry and five hours if out of the water entirely. When I’m on fish I never use to think of anything other than, Fish On!  I’m on fish and I need to get my line back into the water and catch more before they leave town.

I think most sport fishermen think this way. But maybe we need to slow down just a few minutes and make the best sport in the world just a little more responsible and sustainable for the next generation of anglers coming into the best sport in the world.



JimGalloway/Author Editor

References:  The Washington PostScientists say fish feel pain. It could lead to major changes in the fishing industry.




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